Memories of the impact the King assasination had on my inner city school

They say people will always remember where they were on 9/11/01. And, for those old enough, where they were the day President Kennedy was killed. My mother remembers Pearl Harbor.

On April 4th, 1968, the day Martin Luther King was assassinated, I was a student at Holmes Jr-Sr High School in Covington, KY. Covington is just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati and referred to by some as the “arm pit” of Cincinnati, and both cities are part of the Ohio (or Cincinnati) valley. Many who were money capable would move to the surrounding hills named after the pre-Civil War forts; Fort Campbell, Fort Wright, Fort Mitchell, Independence …..

I lived near the edge of the valley. Covington had numbered streets that went from 1st street at the Ohio River to 47th, near the bottom of the hill… and I lived between 44th and 45th streets. I generally rode a city bus to school (25th St) in the mornings (no school busses) and walked home via the railroad tracks, which provided the most direct route and came within a block of my house.

The Holmes Castle

Holmes School was built on the grounds of the Holmes Castle and the first classes were held in the modified mansion.

Eventually, the school grew to a population of 2500 students in grades 7-12 with a campus that included two buildings with four floors each, one with three floors and a newer Science Building/Gymnasium complex. The band room was under ground in the Science Building.

 As the city’s only school, it had a moderately high percentage of blacks. Prior to the King shooting, I don’t recall racial incidents, although I was pretty sheltered as I spent much of my “free” time in the band room. There were two black girls (both clarinetists) who were fun to be around and I enjoyed their personalities. I was an office-aid with a really pleasant girl named Charlene. I’m glad I got to know those three as my first n0n-white friends prior to King’s assassination because everything changed after that.

For the next couple weeks, about 10 minutes prior to the final bell, all the black students (that would be hundreds) would simultaneously exit the buildings and walk en masse from 25th street toward the downtown area of Covington.  It was a peaceful exodus, but no one was going to try to stop them ….. The tension in the school, including classes, was extremely tense as everyone feared something that would escalate the situation.

The closest I came to actual trouble was after school one day when I was leaving the school grounds and crossed the road to go to the store…. When I came out, there was a pop bottle flying across the street in my general direction. I didn’t walk alone for several days after that…. and neither did anyone else.

Mr. Crowder, a black teacher in the system and my 7th grade band director, was instrumental (pardon the pun) in getting groups of students together to help the healing. He never got the credit I thought he deserved for that.

Things settled down in a few weeks, but I don’t know that they got back to “normal”.

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2 thoughts on “Memories of the impact the King assasination had on my inner city school

  1. Very nice piece, John. Just as vivid to me are memories of “the troubles” 2 years later. On 2/19/70 we were rehearsing in the auditorium prepping for Chicago. Someone came in, flagged down Mr. C, who then told us “We’re staying here till the bell (for 2nd period).” When we went out, there were cops in all the hallways, so I knew it was bad. Things quieted down due to the teachers strike, then heated up again in April. A very tense and difficult time- in the long run cooler heads prevailed, but it took some doing.

    1. Jim, thanks. Was the “troubles” you mentioned concerning the Chicago trip? My memories of the teachers strike and all the workings around that trip are not as clear as they should be. I probably wasn’t paying attention….. If you would like to send a “guest post”, I’ll post it unedited. You’ve heard about all the union stuff in Wisconsin. To a lesser degree, that is happening in Indiana. I AM a member of a teacher’s union …. which means ….. well, yeah.

      I did write a piece questioning whether either side was right/wrong without getting into the specific details: http://wp.me/pIYXs-7f. I’d appreciate your feedback. Good to hear from you, my friend.

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